Intuitive feel

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This is an introduction to the character of robotic work in the nanocosm.
It should deliver some intuitive feeling of how things work down there.


  • How big is an atom?

"Atoms are unimaginably small." that is very a common belief. And whenever some comparison is brought up one usually feels confirmed on hat assumption. But it turns out that there is a "best way" to get an intuitive feel for their size that is rarely used (or never until here for the first time??). Here are the details: "Magnification theme-park". – Judge for yourself whether this "atoms are unimaginably small" belief is false misbelief after all.

  • How does it feel when you grab two atoms and rub them against each other?
    Atoms are very soft and slippery.
    Main article: "The feel of atoms"
  • How do atoms work and what shape do they have?
    They work like vibrating drums, just different in all the details.
    Their shape is like symmetric smooth clouds, a bit like blurred fruit seeds. Shape can change when neighbor atoms change.
    Main article: "The basics of atoms"
  • At which speeds do Atoms usually move?
    Too fast to find an intuitive way to imagine it. Sorry.
    The Speed of sound (experienced half a million times faster if you scale up to barely see the model-atoms).
    But an intuitive feeling for speeds will be attainable for motion of bigger stuff that is of more interest (namely crystolecules).
    Main article: "The speed of atoms"


  • At which speeds do Atoms usually move?
    See answer above in section Atoms.
    Main article: "The speed of atoms"
  • At which speeds will nanorobotics usually operate?
    Pretty slow actually. In the low mm/s range.
    (experienced pretty fast if you scale up to barely see the model-atoms. About mach 7)
    Main article: "The speed of nanorobotics"

Everything is "magnetic"

Well, not really, but this is a real good analogy for getting an intuitive feeling for a novel force only encountered at the nanoscale where it is omnipresent. The Van der Waals force (VdW). Instead of everything is "magnetic" one could say everything is "vanderwaalic".

From a phenomenological perspective (not from the origins of course, those are very different) the VdW force is like a strange kind of magnetism that:

  • too drops off very quickly with distance / is short range (more short range even than magnetism - to verify)
  • has no polarity
  • is always attractive

The VdW force is extremely useful for putting and holding stuff together at the nanoscale (and maybe microscale).
Connection method#Van der Waals locking

Side-note: The alternative analogy everything is "sticky" is not used here since stickiness is usually associated with some sort of glue and with high viscosity which absolutely does not match reality even as a superficial analogy. Magnetism on the other hand is not associated to any medium and is associated with extremely low friction.

Everything is extremely bouncy

Drop some macroscale machine part like e.g. a metal gear down at a metal surface and it quickly comes to rest. Not so much at the nanoscale. Crystolecules behave more like rubber balls, just worse. Way worse. Rubber balls that just do not want to stop bouncing.

Side-note: In some situations (like e.g. a flat disk hitting a flat wall) nanoscale gemstone "bouncyness" can become involved into a serious fight with nanoscale gemstone "vanderwalicness". Working out who wins (bounce-back or snap-to) is a serious mathematical/physical modeling challenge. Experiments are needed, but many of those can't be done yet.

That bounciness is not only present when you smash a crystolecule against a wall, but also (which is more relevant) in the operation of gemstone based nanomachinery. Flex waves can run back and forth, barely damped, long ways through complex and even branched axle systems.

While designing for this can be major PITA (ahem pretty difficult) like in electrical circuit design, it also potentially offers the possibility to archive extreme high efficiencies.

Also one can gain more control via deliberate introduction of discrete damping elements.

Everything is shaky

Worse than in a wood wheeled carriage racing over cobblestones.
Or: You are like an astronaut – don't ever let go of your tools – they may haunt you

  • What happens when you let go of a building block?

Main article: "The heat-overpowers-gravity size-scale"

Let's consider an somewhat unusual fall experiment. A small gripper let go of a building block. Simple? See if you answer right.

A fall experiment quiz to illustrate the quite unfamiliar mechanical behavior in the nanoscale.

Scaling laws

They describe what changes when one goes down the scale. E.g. that magnetic motors become weak but electrostatic ones strong. More details can be found at the scaling laws main page.

The prospective feel of gem-gum products

Gem-gum products though machine like robotic in the nanocosm are not necessarily cold hard and robot like to the human senses (See: Soft-core macrorobots with hard-core nanomachinery). Emulated elasticity can create any form imaginable with gradients from soft to hard. It isn't an easy to attain property but it is an highly desirable one and will emerge at some point.


Provide means for an intuitive understanding seems to be a good didactic approach for a wide target audience.

In the book "Radical Abundance"

In the book Radical Abundance the introduction tries to convey an intuitive feel for how things behave down at the nanoscale. (wiki-TODO: give a more precise reference)

Richard Feynman

There are great recordings of the famous physicist and teacher Richard Feynmen about the importance:

  • of an intuitive understanding of things and
  • of looking at things from new perspectives.


External links